Back in 2015, I surveyed my readers’ social media habits. The results of that survey are always among my most-read blog posts each month… but they’re also a bit outdated.

Since that survey was conducted, we’ve elected a new president, seen “fake news” dominate our feeds, and watched an entire generation become prisoners of their phones.

We’ve also seen Facebook strip-mine Snapchat’s features, Instagram switch up its algorithm, and Twitter fail to solve its troll problem.

What impact have all these developments had on the way we use social media?

To find out, I created a new survey, and dozens of respondents weighed in.

Now, while this is by no means a very wide or diverse sampling of the Internet, I personally find it helpful to understand how my own audience is using these tools. And, to be honest, I suspect my findings may not be drastically different from how your own audience or customers feel.

2017 Social Media Survey Results and App Icons

What a beautiful Candyland hellscape of existential dread…

2017 Social Media Habits: Survey Results

From the 15 questions I asked my readers in my survey, several trends revealed themselves.

General Social Media Usage

About 50% of my audience only uses social media personally, not professionally

The most-enjoyed social media channels for personal use? Facebook and Instagram (tie)

The most-enjoyed social media channel for professional use? Facebook

The least-enjoyed social media channels for personal use? Facebook and Twitter

The least-enjoyed social media channel for professional use? Facebook. (Ironic; see above.)

Almost no respondents use Google+, Snapchat, Tumblr, or WhatsApp for anything.

(Interestingly, these results indicate either a shift in usage habits or a change in my own audience demographics since 2015, when the most-used personal and most-critical professional channel was Twitter, not Facebook.)

Social Media Advertising Insights

Respondents were asked to rate their perception of the ads on each social media channel, ranging from a score of 1 (“Rarely Useful and Often Annoying”) to 5 (“Useful and Rarely Annoying”). Participants were asked to only rate the ad experience of the channels they actually used.

The Good News?

Instagram’s ads are the least-hated ads across all social media channels. They scored the most 5s (6%) and 4s (19%), with a combined 25% of respondents indicating that Instagram’s ads are useful.

18% of users rated Facebook’s ads a 4 (“Useful but Sometimes Annoying”). However, not a single user rated Facebook’s ads a 5; every other channel surveyed did receive at least one 5.

Respondents were mostly indifferent to LinkedIn ads (29%, a full 12% higher “indifferent” rating than any other channel). This may suggest an opportunity for LinkedIn to… you know… make their ads actually stand out?

The Bad News?

71% of users consider Facebook’s ads “rarely useful.” But as jointly hated as Facebook’s ads are, one channel fares even worse.

YouTube is the only channel where more than 50% of respondents rated their ads a 1 (“Rarely Useful and Often Annoying”). Something about YouTube’s ad experience is very broken, and users aren’t happy.

And yet…

Voted Off the Island, Social Media Edition

Despite their hatred of YouTube’s ads, my survey respondents actually enjoy using the channel. In fact, it’s one of only two bright spots on the year, trend-wise, as you’ll soon see.

On the other hand…

All users were asked, “If you HAD to give up one social media channel for personal use, what would you choose?” BY FAR, the winning” (losing?) answer was Facebook. A full 33% of respondents would give it up as their first choice. (By comparison, only 1 person said they’d stop using YouTube first.)

But wait…

Isn’t this a paradox?

How can Facebook be the channel that people MOST and LEAST enjoy, both personally AND professionally?

The answer is that Facebook is ubiquitous. Even if you hate it, you still end up using it… and the more you use it, well…

(One note on data collection here: I realize in retrospect that I didn’t limit the answers to some questions to “only the services you already use.” I suspect the data would be skewed even more anti-Facebook if some respondents hadn’t volunteered to give up using services they probably weren’t using to begin with, like Tumblr or Snapchat.)

Frequency of Social Media Usage in 2017

When asked whether they used each social media channel more often, less often, or the same amount as they did in 2016…

  • Over 40% say they used Instagram and YouTube more often in 2017
  • Over 20% say they used Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter more often in 2017
  • Over 30% say they used Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest less often in 2017
  • No one said they used Tumblr more often in 2017

Enjoyment of Social Media in 2017

When asked whether they enjoy using each social media channel more often, less often, or the same amount as they did in 2016…

  • Over 30% say their enjoyment of Instagram and YouTube has gone up in 2017
  • 30% say their enjoyment of Google+, Pinterest, and Twitter has gone down in 2017
  • 65% say their enjoyment of Facebook has gone down in 2017

Social Media Self-Image in 2017

All respondents were asked, “Which words would you MOST hope that others would use to describe your PERSONAL social media presence?” (Respondents could choose up to 3 answers, all of equal weight.)

The top 5 ways respondents hope others would describe their personal social media presence are:

  • Amusing/Funny (59%)
  • Insightful/Interesting (39%)
  • Honest/Trustworthy (33%)
  • Good-Natured/Pleasant (21%)
  • Creative/Original (20%)

Note that nearly 3 out of every 5 respondents would like to be seen as Amusing/Funny. This, again, is a slight difference from my 2015 results, when Interesting was the top choice (55%) and Funny came in second at only 40%. Also, in 2015, Trustworthy only came in 7th place; in 2017, it came in 3rd.

Why the shift?

I believe the overwhelming volume of negative headlines and “fake news” has resulted in more people wanting to be seen as authentic, reliable sources of information, and as bright spots in the murk.

So… Any Suggestions on How to Fix Social Media?

As a matter of fact, yes.

All respondents were asked one final question: “If you could change ONE THING about social media in 2018, what would it be?” This was an open essay, so the results were all phrased in the respondents’ own words.

There were many relevant observations, including:

  • “Bring back the fun.”
  • “Less politics, more original thoughts”
  • “Fix the bullshit YouTube copyright and demonetization issues”
  • “Snapchat finding a way to give a more meaningful experience to their users and advertisers”
  • “Ways to save copies of conversations; curating”
  • Consolidation. I hate having to subscribe to so many different forms of social media to keep up with my friends.”
  • “More personal, less commercial/broadcast messages”
  • “Facebook needs to die.”

But there were, by far, two recurring suggestions that appeared far more often than anything else.

First, social media users want less toxicity, more civility, and removal of all the bots / trolls / fake news. In short, they want exactly what Facebook and Twitter seem unwilling to do.

This explains why user enjoyment and frequency of Facebook and Twitter are down from 2016, and why Instagram and YouTube’s trends are up: users are beginning to shift toward the less-toxic social media platforms, or at least the platforms where they’re less likely to see spam, bots, fake news, and upsetting memes and headlines from their friends and family.

Second, social media users want a return to chronological algorithms, or at least to an algorithm whose criteria they can control.

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have all moved toward a more popularity-based algorithm over the past two years. That’s led to closed loops, echo chambers, and viral outrage. It’s also caused certain brands, influencers, and “power users” to reverse-engineer the algorithm so they can manipulate it, while “ordinary” users slip through the cracks. (If you keep wondering why you’re connected to some people on a channel but you never see their updates, it’s because the algorithm has decided you don’t need to.)

Instead of putting more control over their algorithms into their users’ hands, these channels keep finding new ways to make this process even worse. Last year, Twitter frustrated many users by adding even more noise to their users’ feeds. Now, Instagram is testing a regram button that will ensure their users see even more “popular” images and even less original content from the accounts they’ve chosen to follow.

The end result is that users are at the mercy of algorithms that are optimized to trap your attention on their platform for as long as possible, because their ad revenue depends on you being there to see it.

Conclusion

Social media tends to serve as a cultural thermometer, and the past two years have indicated that our system is battling an illness.

One of the reasons a suggestion like “bring back the fun” resonates so deeply is because many longtime Twitter and Facebook users remember a time when logging in meant you’d probably meet someone interesting or learn something new, rather than our current experience of subjecting ourselves to a seemingly endless scroll of doomsday headlines and choir-preaching memes.

If this is an extreme, social media is reaching a point where it either needs to swing the pendulum back or lean into toxicity and hope it somehow becomes a growth strategy. (Spoiler alert: it won’t.)

Because for all their suggestions of improving their social media experience, many respondents also suggested something else entirely:

In 2018, nearly 10% of my survey respondents intend to use social media even less, or quit it altogether.

Your move, channels.

If You Liked This Post

… then you may also enjoy this post about The Question That Kills Your Business Before You Ever Start (“How to Beat Facebook”), or this post about how to easily improve your writing for online audiences.

This Question Kills Your Business Before You Ever Start

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